Owings Mills farmhouse inspires 'love at first sight'


May 22, 1994|By Maryalice Yakutchik | Maryalice Yakutchik,Special to The Sun

There's no question that Nan Harvey's Owings Mills farmhouse fits where it sits -- at the end of a long drive off the main road, across a little bridge, and up a gentle hill.

Like the protective maple and the profusion of daffodils on the property, the house has bloomed where it was planted -- or, more accurately, transplanted.

In 1904, not long after it was built, the original owners moved it about 300 yards from lower ground, near the adjacent creek, up the hill.

Ms. Harvey learned this and other history of the home when she bought it in 1984 for $50,000 from the estate of a son of the original owners.

"One of the brothers told me that pigs were kept in the side yard and the attic was where the boys had slept," Ms. Harvey says. "All the fixtures came from a resort on Greenspring Valley Road that had burnt down in the '20s."

She learned more history when she moved in.

"The brother who lived here died as an old man and hadn't been able to keep the place up," Ms. Harvey says. "He had been something of a pack rat; I just found treasures in the shed out back, which was 3-feet deep with stuff: a giant cast-iron frying pan, a lot of little bottles, and a tin of linseed oil from the '40s; I think he had been a painter.

"And talk about treasures: On the 4 acres are apple and pear trees, and wineberries and blackberries and grapevine . . . and daffodils; I don't think he ever divided them."

A self-employed architect, Ms. Harvey, 41, is living in a house she never would have designed. She and her husband, Bob -- whom she married after buying the house -- love all of its funky idiosyncrasies.

All tiny rooms, plaster walls and narrow stairs, the aging structure is the antithesis of the smoothly-flowing wide-open downtown dwelling she had been living in and renovating for two years. She hadn't been looking to move, much less buy another home, when she happened upon the unpretentious place she describes as comfy and classic as a favorite old pair of jeans.

"It was love at first sight," she remembers. "The subsequent house is often [chosen] in reaction to the house you're in.

"I had all drywall walls in the city; here it's all old plaster, not smooth and hard, but textured, with cracks and lines; like a person's face, it has morecharacter when it gets older.

"It's a pure kind of a home, with not a lot of bric-a-brac or applied decoration. The proportions are right; the forms of this house are just very harmonious."

The couple's favorite part of the three-bedroom house is the front porch, seemingly an extension of lawn with its green wood floors and green-framed screen door.

What old farmhouses have in charm, they lack in insulation, Ms. Harvey found.

About $20,000 in renovations have paid for mainly invisible upgrades, such as insulation and wiring, much of which she's done herself. She has also stripped off a lot of old wallpaper, as well as linoleum floors to reveal the wood underneath. In addition, she built a closet into the master bedroom and installed a first-floor bathroom/laundry in what had been a pantry off the eat-in kitchen.

The big-ticket improvements included new prefinished cedar siding, a new garage and a deck. In the attic, Ms. Harvey fashioned a sky-lighted home office.

K? "It's a fun house to do stuff with; it's your basic house."

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